Antler hunting season still a few weeks away | VailDaily.com

Antler hunting season still a few weeks away

EAGLE COUNTY — One of the most amazing things about the public lands all around us is the bounty they provide.

The national forest offers myriad recreational opportunities and scenic vistas galore. Plus for enterprising folks who are willing to trek into the backcountry, there is cash — in the form of shed antlers — just sitting on the ground.

Antler shed hunting is a popular and profitable practice for many local residents and visitors. It is legal, and it does not require a special permit, to collect antlers that are lying on the ground. But you have to do it during certain times of the year.

Right now is not one of those times.

From Jan. 1 through March 14, antler shed hunting is prohibited in Eagle County's large game management units — 35, 36, 44 and 444. Those areas pretty much cover the entire county. From March 15 through May 15, antler shed hunting is restricted to the hours of 10 a.m. to sunset.

Colorado Parks & Wildlife managers advise the public to be responsible and ethical around wintering wildlife, especially while collecting shed antlers late in the cold weather season. Officers are concerned about the growing number of collectors looking for sheds in closed areas, or pressuring big game while the animals are struggling to survive winter conditions.

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"The whole idea is not to be disturbing the animals any more than necessary," said Craig Wescoatt, Colorado Parks & Wildlife manager. "It is a critical thing for them to be maintaining their weight right now and any unnecessary movement lessens their chances for survival."

Bad Apples

While shed antler hunting is allowed in most of Colorado, wildlife officers say they have received reports of several unethical collectors entering restricted areas. A few have been seen chasing deer and elk in hopes the startled animals drop their antlers. Officers have ticketed several shed hunters for harassing wildlife this year.

Wescoatt noted that you can't really scare antlers off an animal, but if a shed hunter startles a buck or bull, the animal is more likely to run off and catch his antler on surrounding brush.

"We are asking folks who want to hunt for sheds, that they do it in an ethical and legal manner and only in areas where it is allowed," said Area Wildlife Manager Perry Will of Glenwood Springs. "We ask that you do not let dogs off leash to chase wildlife, trespass, go off-trail, harass animals with an OHV, or violate closures. If you do, we will enforce our laws and issue citations."

Wildlife officials say in addition to shed hunting, other forms of outdoor recreation, including the irresponsible use of OHVs and ATVs, can be very stressful to wintering wildlife.

"This is about protecting these animals," said Will. "People need to understand that when big game expends critical energy by running from human activity this time of year, it will lead to higher mortality. We will do what we need to do to prevent that."

Sheds just getting started

Wildlife managers remind shed hunters and all outdoor recreationalists that keeping their distance from wintering big game is the most effective way to prevent animal stress and mortality. They say even searching for antlers on foot or horseback can create stressful conditions for wildlife if people get too close.

"We understand that people enjoy hunting sheds, but we ask everyone to be legal and ethical," Will said. "The best option is to follow the laws and keep your distance, and maybe wait until big game has moved to summer range to begin looking for sheds."

Wescoatt noted that deer begin losing their antlers in January but will continue to drop them through the spring. Elk and moose keep their antlers even longer, so sheds won't show up for a few more weeks.

When the shed season opens, a quick Google search shows that hunters can expect to get around $10 per pound for single deer sheds and $12 per pound for single elk sheds. Wescoatt noted that antlers have become a popular dog chew option, increasing the demand for single sheds.

For hunters who find large, matched sets of deer or elk antlers, the payoff can be in the hundreds of dollars. Those sheds often find a second life as chandeliers or other home decor.

Not everyone is in the business of selling the sheds he or she finds. Many shed hunters hit the woods to add to their own collections.

"I think for some people it is a competitive thing, trying to find big sets of antlers," Wescoatt said.

Whatever the reason, shed hunters will soon be scouring the forest floor. But if you see shed hunters out there right now, they shouldn't be. Colorado Parks & Wildlife urges anyone that observes illegal activity to contact their local wildlife office, or to remain anonymous contact Operation Game Thief at 877-265-6648. Rewards are available for information that leads to a citation.

For more information about shed collection restrictions in the Northwest Region, contact Colorado Parks & Wildlife's Glenwood Springs office at 970-947-2920. For information about restrictions in Gunnison County, call CPW's office in Gunnison at 970-641-7060.